There’s a phrase in the familiar version of the Lord’s Prayer that troubles me: “And lead us not into temptation.” How or why would a loving God deliberately lead us into temptation? It simply doesn’t make sense. In fact, the more I delve into theology and religious literature and the answers we humans have used to shape life and society, the less religious I become. I simply can’t give my allegiance to a God who plays favorites, picks and chooses winners and losers, is downright tyrannical, and a child abuser. The God of my understanding has given us everything we need to flourish and succeed. To quote Michah, “What does God require of you, O Man, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” We are the ones who create our own living hell by the selfish choices we make.
Having said that, I still pray, though most often prayers of gratitude. The older I get, the deeper my faith, though, I no longer call myself a Christian. The church has become too legalistic, rigid, nationalistic, power hungry for me. Instead, I long to be a Jesus follower. Consequently, I am careful about how I pray and for what I pray. Something fell into place years ago when I began attending 12 step meetings, as I immediately resonated to the 11th step. “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand God, seeking only God’s will for our lives and the courage to carry that out.”
I’ve never been able to accept the almost universal understanding of the cross as God demanding a human sacrifice to serve as punishment for man’s sin. The Cross makes more sense as the inevitable consequence of following Jesus’ example of non-violent problem solving and loving our enemies. As one of our banners at church reads, “Nobody said it would be easy.” Jim Lawson, one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, phrased it well. “At the cross, Jesus spread out his arms and said, ‘Violence stops here.’ “ In the end refuting violence is what saves and transforms us as individuals and a society.
That ‘s some of why I struggle with “lead us not into temptation.” God doesn’t need to place temptation in front of any of us. Life does a very good job of that all by itself. There are few moments in a day that we are not being pulled in a hundred different directions; self interest, power and control, hoarding resources and money, fear of suffering and pain, loving comfort and luxury, judging others, etc. These forces constantly pull us away from what we intuitively know is right and good…sharing with others, visiting the sick, caring for the prisoner, opening our homes, living with less, turning the other cheek… That’s why, when I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I say, “When we are tempted, deliver us from evil.”
Years ago I discovered a translation and/or a paraphrase of the Sermon on the Mount which included the author’s version of the Lord’s Prayer:
“O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos, focus your light within us – make it useful. Create your reign of unity now – Your one desire then acts with ours, as in all light, so in all forms. Grant what we need each day in bread and insight. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt. Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds us back. From you is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews. Truly – power to these statements – may they be the ground from which all my actions grow. Amen
“Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds Us back. Now that is a prayer I can pray easily and often.
Joyce Shutt is the author of Steps to Hope and is a veteran 12 stepper
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